His arm hurt. Someone was squeezing his right hand. It was the pain that woke him up, and the sound of his name.
"Sonny... Can you hear me, Son?"
He'd recognize that gentle baritone anywhere. He opened his eyes. "Dad?"
Mr. Preyer gave his son a big smile. His hair was tousled and his clothes rumpled. One large, meaty hand clasped Sonny's while the other pumped a familiar, red stress ball.
"Hey Son. Givin' me gray hairs, guy. How ya feeling?"
"My arm hurts."
"It should. They poked you enough."
It was then that Sonny took in the bland, pastel blue walls, hanging IV tendrils, and his hospital bed. "Shit!"
He caught himself, looking at his father. "I'm sorry. I meant..."
"It's okay." Dom patted Sonny's arm.
"Why am I here? What happened?"
Now Dom rubbed his hands together, looking away from him.
"They had to run some tests. Try to determine... why you keep having these spells."
He quickly looked up again. "But don't worry. Doctor Sanders is handling everything. Don't you worry about a thing."
He tried to sit up. "What happened?"
"Don't." Dom pushed against his chest, forcing him to lay back down. "You've got an IV, Sonny. You're dehydrated."
Sonny looked over at the plastic bag and dangling tubes attached to him. Did Tyler hit him? He thought it, but he didn't realize he'd also said it.
"That boy will never put his goddamn hands on you again."
He stared at his father. Dom was smiling again, nodding his head. But there were tears in his eyes.
Sonny had stopped telling his parents about the run-ins with Tyler, since junior high, when his dad was arrested for hitting a smart-mouth Tyler. The kid was only fourteen, a minor. Dom had witnessed from their picture window, when Tyler picked up an old beer bottle he found and threw it at Sonny, catching his face. The bottle hadn't busted, but Sonny's lip bled from it's impact against his teeth. Dom ran out of the house so fast, Tyler didn't have a chance to get away.
But Dom gave all of his attention to Sonny, using the boy's shirt to wipe the blood and to stop the tears. When Tyler laughed, admitting to throwing the bottle, and telling Dom, 'And there ain't shit you can do about it,' Dom was on him in one swift motion, striking Tyler so hard it knocked him to the ground. Tyler's father pressed charges.
Dom made bail and didn't have to spend the night in jail at all. But just seeing his father hand-cuffed and put into a police car, watching from his room where he had been forced to go, was enough to teach Sonny to keep his mouth shut whenever Tyler or the other guys did anything to him. He couldn't bear seeing his dad arrested again. It just wasn't worth the hassle.
Now Sonny tried to read his father's riddled face. "What's wrong?"
Dom squeezed his hand again. Then, as if thinking about it, he sobered, pulling himself up with a deep breath. He brought the smaller hand in his to his lips lightly, then laid it back down. "People don't understand what this has been like."
He looked into Sonny's eyes. "I'm just supposed to put up with boys chasing after you, giving you hell? I'm supposed to let that toughen you up? Bullshit! Even if you were like the other boys... like Tyler, those boys aren't just bullies. They're dirty. You know how I know? I used to be a bully. I knew what it was like, not being able to resist picking on the small guy. Now people see a respectable, responsible husband and father, but I'm telling you, I would've been your worst nightmare. I'm not proud of that. But these boys around here, they don't just want to play rough with you. They don't know when to stop."
He lowered his head. "I just had no idea that God would give me such a good kid. I knew, the minute I looked into those huge blue eyes, that you didn't come into this world to be tough. You came to teach us a thing or two. These boys around here, I don't think they're as bad as Tyler was, but they scare me. I think they look at you, and they're so confused. We were crazy, your mother and I, to think that we could hide how amazing you are, with short hair and boys' clothes. It's not just on the outside, Son. But we did our best."
"I know, Dad." He kinda knew, and he kinda didn't know what his father was talking about.
"Do you? I wouldn't trade you for the world, Son."
What's going on?
Dom finally let go of his hand and stood up. "I'm gonna get some coffee. Mom's in the gift shop. I'll bring her back with me."
After he left, Sonny stared at the far wall, vaguely seeing a garden painted in muted colors. His mind was trying to remember the events that put him here, trying to make sense of what sounded like his father's confession. It wasn't long before there was a knock on his door. It cracked open before he managed to say anything, and it wasn't his parents.
A girl peered around it. A very dark-skinned girl. Shyly she stepped into the room, smiling. "Hi Sonny. Remember me?"
Now he did. Brecca Stewart. Two years ago they had both walked the annual Silver Springs March for Domestic Violence. It was a twenty-mile walk-a-thon to raise money for battered women and children shelters. They teamed up halfway through, thanks to Brecca's determination to ignore Sonny's silence, and continue making conversation as she stuck by his side.
By the end of the walk-a-thon, they were practically leaning into each other, stumbling from shaky legs and exhaustion. The walk ended at the recreation center, where participants were found passed out all over the couches and chairs in the lobby. The local newspaper covered the event, featuring a photo of Sonny and Brecca leaning against a corner wall, sound asleep, their heads and shoulders having found each other for support. Both had no idea this occurred until Monday morning's paper arrived. In spite of the amusing memory, neither had spoken to one another since.
"Brecca?" He said her name and questioned her presence at the same time. He was in no condition to hide his confusion.
"I'm sorry to barge in here like this. I just... I had to come and see you." She shook her head.
She was a tall, skinny girl. She wore part of her hair braided on top, and let the rest fell about her shoulders. Designer overalls over a plain white T-shirt, hung on her slender frame and matched her blue tennis shoes. A book bag slung over one shoulder. She, like Sonny, had a reputation for being weird. In junior high, she had claimed that she could see ghosts, leave her body, and tell the future, sentencing herself to a life of ridicule. But she handled it differently from Sonny, as if she enjoyed being an outcast. Unlike him, she looked at it as a sign of superior intelligence. That's what she had told him as they finished the last mile of the walk-a-thon two summers ago.
Now she seemed awkward and unsure. "I have your books." She retrieved three textbooks and a notebook from the bag. She stood for a moment holding them, then she noticed the small table at the end of his bed. "I feel so stupid. But here I am." She raised her arms, palms out. "I'm gonna leave. I promise. But I had to tell you that you shouldn't feel guilty for what happened. Tyler had every warning, and he ignored it."
She clasped her hands together. "I know people think I'm crazy, and I probably am. But I know what I saw. When you showed him what you really were, he should've backed down. He was stubborn. He wanted to be taken this way. He was an evil warrior, he wouldn't have it any other way. So don't feel guilty. He's not worth it. I just wanted to say that to you."
He knew he had missed something. But he didn't know when or where, and he wasn't sure he wanted to know.
"Warrior? Did something happen to Tyler?" Not that he cared about that jerk, but something strange was going on. And it wasn't just Brecca.
She simply stared at him for a moment. Then her hand flew to her mouth. "Oh my God, Sonny. I'm so sorry. I should've known they wouldn't have told you. Not right away. You haven't even talked to the police yet, have you?"
Brecca took a deep breath. "Tyler's dead. He was dead before he hit the ground. Cause of death hasn't been determined, but I know why. His heart stopped when you revealed yourself to him. You have an incredible light. That's all you are really, pure light. Physical eyes are not made to see that, but to block it out. Forgive me for being the one to tell you."
"What? What did you say?"
"One of those freak things, Sonny. He was up in your face. I told him to grow up, to cut it out. But he kept pushing and pushing. Everyone in that cafeteria, teachers and all, saw you stand up from your seat. You said something funny, almost like you were humming. Tyler shut up and turned as white as a sheet. His body lifted off of the floor, and slammed backwards into the brick wall at the end of the lockers. It was a dead body."
He let his eyes drift to the sheet covering his legs.
Another pathetic joke. And he felt so disoriented from hearing it. Between her and his dad, he wished he'd never woken up.
He told her, "This is sick, you know. Why won't you guys leave me alone? I used to think you were halfway decent, Brecca. You're just one of them. Leave please. I feel like crap and this isn't funny."
She bolted to his bedside. "If you thought I was half-way decent, then why didn't you accept my friendship? Why didn't you ever let me talk to you? You learned to run away when you saw me coming. I know it. All I ever saw in you was something wonderful. And I'm not lying. Tyler is dead."
Just then the door opened. Dom and Amber walked in. Brecca straightened. All eyes intersected. No one said a word.
Unable to hide the stricken look on his face, Sonny was almost glad when his father spoke.
"Well. You have a visitor. Introduce us to your friend, Sonny."
Before he could, Brecca stepped forward, holding out a slender hand. "Hi. I'm Brecca Stewart, a classmate."
The Preyers both accepted her hand with some reserve. Sonny hoped their bland smiles didn't offend her. He knew his parents were just in shock to find that their son had any friends at all.
"I was just leaving." Brecca hoisted her bag. But she lingered, rubbing her hands together.
"Look, I told Sonny what happened. I thought he knew. I'm sorry."
It was Dom's and Amber's turn to look stricken as they stared from the girl to Sonny. Amber recovered first. She walked over to the bed and sat down facing her son. But she looked just as lost as he did.
"I'm really sorry." Brecca exchanged a nervous glance with Dom, before opening the door and leaving. When she had gone, his father put his hands deep in his pockets and rocked on his heels. The air in the room seemed still even though the air conditioner's steady blow was starting to chill Sonny.
Dom cleared his throat. "I want you to know Son, everything's gonna be okay. No one is blaming you for anything."
Amber added, "What happened to that boy is unfortunate. But it had nothing to do with you. There were many witnesses."
"And by all accounts, no one saw you lay a finger on that boy," said Dom "As if you're capable of anything like that."
Sonny frowned. "Then it's true?"
"Yes." Amber reached for his hand. He pulled away. "I'm gonna be sick."
They stared at him, uncertain. When he retched, throwing himself over to the other side of the bed, they believed him. Amber grabbed a wastebasket. Dom called for a nurse.
In that instant, Sonny groaned in pain. Tiny beads of dark red blood splattered the bed sheets, lashed across Amber's blouse, and dotted the tiles on the floor.
In jerking himself to the other side of the bed, he had ripped out his IV.
The Preyers tried not to panic. But he made it difficult as his body continued to force his stomach content out of him. He choked. There was no keeping still as his mother tried to wrap the sheet around his bleeding arm. Dom yelled into the intercom, "Where's that damn nurse? Get somebody in here right now!"
Sonny pressed his head against the cold metal bar along the side of the bed. By now, feverish and strained, the coolness of it felt good to him. There was nothing else to throw up. Dry heaves wracked his body anyway.
The muscles along his abdomen were already painfully sore. His arms shook. He knew there was blood everywhere, but he couldn't muster enough energy to care.
Help arrived. He closed his eyes and surrendered to Doctor Sanders and the two male nurses with him. The sting he felt in his arm was nothing compared to the IV needle that had burned its way out.
He was already drifting when the two nurses rolled him to get fresh sheets onto the bed. He didn't know how long it all must've took, but it seemed to him that everyone was leaving, one by one. First the nurses, then his parents, then Sanders. Dom had bent down low over him, grasping his arm, but his words sounded strange to Sonny, all garbled. Those remaining in the room formed a line through the door. He watched it close behind them.
It occurred to him that he should be doing something, feeling something. He sensed an enormous weight, invisible, pressing against the fabric of reality. There was something occupying the same space as his bed, as the mounted television, as all four walls and everything in it. But he didn't know what it was. He couldn't remember.
Then Sanders stood over his bed again, hands behind his back and wearing a smile.
He tried to tell Sanders, "I don't want this." But it didn't come out right.
Again, Sonny heard words that didn't have any meaning.
"I've given you a mild sedative. You're going to be fine, Sonny. The tests I ran last week were inconclusive. You're going to have another diagnostic tomorrow, and if I'm pleased with your vitals, I'm going to let you go home."
He focussed on Sanders' tone. It was soothing. It reminded him of Brecca, and he kinda wished she had stayed.
"This has been a rough day for you. Try to relax and get some rest. The Tranxene I've given you will help with that. Sleep, Sonny."
He felt the doctor's hand on his head. It lingered there. Then Sanders was gone.
With no one and nothing to influence his attention, he floated between awake and asleep. He wanted to sleep, but there was something he needed to remember, and he couldn't.
Amorphous colors swirled in his vision. He looked over to his left and saw a fire burning in a hearth. A blond young man tended it.
Sonny stretched under the coverlets, glad to be back home. The tapestries, the burning clove, and the firelight falling across all of his books, intoxicated him. It was the familiarity of it all. The young man stoking the fire turned to look at him. "Oh, Sy. Come back to us, Sy."
He answered him, "Silly Cale, I am back."
With these words, Sonny closed his eyes on the fire and the young man. He slept.
The tests took all morning. By noon, he was back in his room, where Sanders joined him with his parents.
"The data isn't complete, but I already know there's disruptive activity in both temporal lobes. However, the pattern does not indicate full-blown seizures. But he is at risk." He gave Sonny a pointed stare before continuing. "None of his motor, nervous, or cerebral functions appear anymore affected than they were nine years ago. But his metabolism is showing an unusual enzymatic chemical reaction."
"And this means?" Dom pumped his rubber ball.
"It means that his brain is behaving as if he is starving. Instead of using glucose, its usual fuel, it's using ketones. To the brain, these are a last resort, pulled from reserves of protein and fat cells. I'm not definite, but this might be exactly why the disruptive activity has not turned into full-blown seizures."
Amber's hand went to her throat. "Sonny's body is trying to have seizures again?"
"No. His body is trying not to have seizures. I think the black-outs may be an abortive attempt to prevent further surges between neural synapses. Of course, the Neurologist will have the final say."
Dom frowned. "So what now?"
"Further analysis. And plenty of rest for Sonny. I should have more results by the end of this week. Other than that, his blood work looks fine. Red counts are a little low, but the metabolic shift explains that. Over the next few days, I hope to collect more precise information. Until then, he should take it easy, moderate activity. Make sure he eats. Since there's nothing else we know to do at this time, and there's no immediate threat, you're free to go home."
Sonny hopped off the bed, dressed and ready.
"One more thing."
All three waited warily.
"I have kept the police away from you for as long as I can. I told them you were in no condition to answer questions. Since they do not believe you to be a criminal, my medical authority has been respected. But they have to question you, Sonny. I recommended to the officers who were here yesterday that they stop by your home later tonight, allowing you some time to settle in. I reminded them that Tyler's death is a tragedy for you too, in spite of the circumstances. They agreed and left, but you may still run into some reporters downstairs. I would avoid the main exits if I were you.
Sonny didn't know what to say. Amber hugged the doctor, pressing a tearful "Thank you" into his shoulder.
Guided by his father's hand on his back, Sonny walked out of the hospital.
The Preyers skirted past the small crowd of people
gathered outside of the Emergency Room entrance. Heading
for the parking lot, Sonny saw three news vans, the local channels, stationed in a row in front of the hospital. He walked closer to his parents.
"Shit!" Dom stopped in mid-step.
Sonny saw why. Some of the news people and on-lookers
had cunningly staked out the Preyer's car.
His father lunged one huge arm around his shoulders. "It's okay, Son. Don't worry. Just let them do their thing, they're reporters. We'll be polite, but we're not talking. Just get in the car, and all of this will die down. Come on, it's gonna be okay."
Dom didn't sound like it was gonna be okay at
As soon as they approached the car, they were descended upon.
"Live from CSN, Sonny Preyer is leaving the Silver Springs Medical Center after the terrible incident at Silver High that has left this community still asking, what happened?"
"And here's Sonny Preyer now with his parents. We will ask him to comment..."
"Sonny can you tell us what happened in your own words..."
"Sonny, is it true that you've received anonymous death threats? And can you tell us..."
"What's the last thing you remember, Sonny?"
"Is it true that you and Tyler Croner had come to blows just prior to the incident?"
"What do you say to the rumors insisting that you belong to a cult and had it in for Tyler?"
The questions came on and on. Dom burrowed his way past the reporters, with Sonny close behind. Amber clutched the back of Sonny's shirt, trying not to get separated from her family. Dom opened the rear door, but just as Sonny bent to get in, someone grabbed his arm.
"Preyer! What did you do to my boy?"
Sonny found himself looking up into the bloodshot eyes of Mathew Croner, Tyler's father. In his sixties, Croner was a wiry man with a stooped frame. As long as Sonny could remember, the sunken man had walked with a stick, dragging the right half of his body. Even his face, with the right side of his mouth permanently frozen in a flat compression, gave Sonny the impression that Croner was imprisoned in his body. He had never heard what disease or malady had stricken Croner, only that the man was a widower who raised his son alone.
"Everybody knows you two didn't get along. Tyler ain't dead for no good reason! What the hell did you do to him?"
Croner threw spit with his words. Sonny felt the spray and smelled liquor. There was a tremor in the left hand that gripped his arm.
Dom stepped up to the man. A hush had fallen and cameras clicked away.
"Now Matt, take it easy. Let Sonny go."
Croner let go, but he stood his ground. "You damn Preyers always thought you were better than us. I ain't leaving till I hear something. I deserve an explanation for what happened to my son."
Dom clenched his fist and a white line appeared above his mouth. Sonny spoke up. "I'm sorry, Mr. Croner. I'm terribly sorry. It's true that Tyler and I didn't get along, but I don't know what happened to him. And I wouldn't wish this on him, or you. I'm sorry."
Croner opened his mouth as if he wanted to say something. His jaw trembled, and he closed it, averting his eyes.
He reminded Sonny of a wounded animal who could not be helped.
"He was all I had," Croner replied. "Tyler was all I had." The man's withered mouth chewed on his words.
Dom nudged Sonny. "Come on, Son. Get in."
He couldn't move. To him, it seemed that Croner was shriveling, wasting right before his eyes. The man's pain came at him, flooding his mind with information.
He saw the last fifteen years of Croner's life, saw the car crash that killed his wife and left one side of his body paralyzed. He saw the man left with a five year-old son to raise. Saw the loneliness and the alcoholism. The arguments between him and Tyler. Tyler hitting his father in their kitchen, knocking Croner into the stove. Croner calling the police. Croner taking pills. Croner asking for the Lord's forgiveness.
Sonny couldn't stand it anymore. "Mr. Croner, give me your hand."
If the crowd had gotten quiet, any residue of murmuring now came to a complete standstill. Dom's mouth fell open as he watched Sonny move to Croner. From the other side of the car, where she had maneuvered, Amber called her son's name.
But Sonny didn't hear her. All of his thought was bent on Croner. The stooped, older man did not give Sonny his hand, but merely stared at him, brows knitted together. Sonny reached out and took his coarse, gnarled fingers, and put them into his own. Then he did something even stranger. He held them against his chest.
"You were always worthy. Always.
As he spoke, something rose in and around him. In his head, was the sound of a thousand humming bees, a continuous sonic vibration that found a focal point in his chest. It was feeling-sound. It mounted. And for one split second, there was only he and Croner.
It was over, as quickly as it started. The next thing Sonny knew, Croner was pulling back, jerking so hard that he fell into the people behind him. Before Sonny could wonder at this, dizziness overcame him and a terrible ringing sounded inside his head. He felt relief when he realized he was in his father's arms. They were in the car and Dom held him, lifting and sliding him across the back seat. Sonny closed his eyes, aware of the engine starting. Someone was talking to him, a woman's voice. The more he strained to listen, the further away it sounded.
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